Afzal Kahn is one of those people you just can’t help but be inspired by. Just over twenty years ago he took the leap from a safe career in architecture to the world of car design and customisation. Starting with custom wheels, he’s created a multi-million-pound business doing for cars what a high-end fashion designer does for clothes.
As a self-made millionaire, he is also the proud owner of one of the world’s most desirable and sought-after number plates – F 1, currently sitting on his blue carbon Bugatti Veyron Super Sport – one of only three in the world.
We spent time talking to him about automotive fashion, refining cars and, of course, number plates.
The world first heard of Afzal Kahn – the creator of automotive fashion, (as his official Instagram page, @AfzalKahn states) – in the mid-nineties when, fresh from leaving his architecture studies, he designed the RS-R Alloy wheel, a striking innovation that quickly became a sensation amongst car aficionados. With the capital from this first success, he was able to begin a number of customisation services.
Kahn Design was the original standard bearer for Kahn’s creations, followed by The Chelsea Truck Company, Project Kahn, and his supercar project, The ‘Vengeance’.
Kahn has a very forthright view when it comes to design – “You’re either born creative or you’re not, simple. If you’re creative and you love something, you’ll have the eye for it, you’ll know instantly whether it’s beautiful or not. You take the finance, and the opportunity away, and you see it as raw… You see beauty… That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
“When you think about it, a car is one of the few pieces of jewellery a man can have. If you look at a car, it’s an escape, it’s more than just a car”, he says, describing his motivations for entering the automotive design game.” Later he tells us that he’s become an automotive designer to, “take the best that exists and refine it.”
Kahn prefers to do most of his work with a few distinct models – Jeep Wranglers and Land Rovers, both rugged and powerful vehicles with a long history of success in the United Kingdom and favourites of his since childhood.
Most of his work involves replacing wheels, widening the body, creating bespoke leather interiors via an in-house workshop and incorporating new suspension and engines.
This allows him to focus on obtaining and crafting the best possible modifications. Interiors can be fitted out in any number of combinations, thanks to partnerships with luxury brands like Harris Tweed, Dame Zandra Rhodes and Cosworth. Over the years he’s offered a few collectable models such as the ‘Longnose’ based on the Land Rover Defender, and the ‘Black Hawk’, based on the Jeep Wrangler. Buoyed by their success, he’s turned his hand to Aston Martins – specifically the DB9 – unveiling the aforementioned ‘Vengeance’ at the Geneva Motor Shows in 2015 and 2016, having invested a total of £2.2 million in order to ‘pay homage’ to Aston Martin.
When asked about his favourite parts of the car to design, he finds it hard to identify one, “It’s the way it sits together. It’s like a suit, you can’t just have one part, it’s all of it. Perhaps wheels – they’re the most visual part.” He’s more forthcoming when he talks about the design process, especially when collaborating, telling us “the most important part is getting the juices flowing… you go into a little space with whoever you’re working with, floating around, moving things about, making connections. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting around you.”
Kahn’s vibrant, unique designs have won him a lot of fans. Last year, he was asked to fit out a number of bespoke, luxury cabs for the LEVC, one of the premium taxi firms in London.
More recently, Afzal has created coachbuilt projects like the ‘Flying Huntsman’ 6×6 Defender. After all, Britain has a proud history of luxury coachbuilding!
Produced on a limited basis – the colossal Land Rover Defender XS Double Cab Pickup 2.2 TDCI ‘Flying Huntsman’ 6X6 started life as a standard vehicle.
Around 880mm longer than a normal Defender and 150mm wider, the ‘Flying Huntsman’ 110 6X6 is adorned with a full range of mechanical & styling upgrades, that gives the vehicle a muscular appearance and improved performance. It features six driven wheels, an upgrade to the suspension and braking system, locking differentials and a six-speed automatic gearbox – ensuring this ground-breaking vehicle is as tough as they come.
Then there’s the appearances on Discovery’s Supercar Megabuild, and his hit YouTube Show The Kahn Office, a short fly-on-the-wall documentary series following the day-to-day lives of his office employees, which has amassed legions of fans in a short space of time, thanks to Afzal’s sense of humour and his sense of boyish enthusiasm for all things cars. Both have furthered his image as an automotive fashion auteur. A long wait list and a celebrity clientele running across sport, music and television mean that his workshops are always busy.
When asked what he does to relax, Kahn tells us that it’s what he does, day in, day out, that fuels him and keeps him happy. “I’m relaxed all the time. Enjoying myself is what I’m doing now. If you ask a creative person who is in the industry that he loves, they’re on holiday. He’s having his break and enjoying life. The only pressure, that everybody gets, is finance… The rest of it is just a great ride. If you can find a place in life where you enjoy going to work, you’re going to enjoy life, you’re going to look good and be healthy.”
Now, in what may seem a natural progression from his work as an automotive fashionista, he’s also designed an electric bike, ‘The Chelsea’, based on a 1920s pre-war motorbike with a range of fifty miles, the prototype to be released at the end of October.
Kahn has also branched into food – developing a range of ‘hardcore’ raw food bars that contain no gluten, no soy, just “raw food” – a subject that he is also very passionate about. “It’s all natural, it’s good for you. Because if you don’t fuel yourself greatly, you’re going to have issues”
Of course, Kahn came to Regtransfers attention when he purchased F 1 back in 2008 for £440,000.
When asked why he purchased the plate, he tells us, “It’s F1 related, it’s one of a kind, it’s the most powerful sport in the world, it’s related to a very, very expensive sport… You’d be mad not to buy it”. F 1’ has attracted a lot of attention since it came on the market. Kahn purchased it based on the proviso that he wouldn’t sell it for ten years, to deter speculators from purchasing the plate. He says it’s definitely his favourite plate, and he’s flat-out turned down plenty of offers for it – “I wouldn’t sell it for ten million.”
Perhaps the reaction he gets from it is part of the reason why he has refused to part with it so far, “It’s on my Bugatti Veyron, and whenever I check my Instagram page, I am tagged into countless images of the blue carbon Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, so it’s great in terms of connecting with people.”
In fact, Kahn is no stranger to personalised number plates, having accumulated a large collection over the years – over sixty – as part of his customisation services. Many of these plates sit on retention, awaiting the perfect owner, such as 1 CEO, 51 UNT and NO 4. Others he places on his show cars, such as 4 HRH.
Asked about why he loves number plates, his eyes light up, saying “I love short numbers, I think they make the car look good. “You could put a short plate on a rubbish car and it makes it look so much better. It’s the cleanliness, it’s the simplicity. I’m in the industry of designing cars and helping people look like heroes on the road. The number completes it.”
In a way, Kahn’s a very dedicated plate investor, taking advantage of the thriving market that has sprung up around personalised number plates, noting “Fact is, I’ve been in the number plate business since I was a little kid, I’ve watched them, I’ve been in the business, a collector in a way”. Along the way, he’s picked up some stunning plates. “I have NO 1, which I sold recently. 51 R, I bought that back in 1999, which I thought was a great number, JO07 NAZ, K4 AHN, AK11 ANS…
“Much like my automotive creations, each registration I own tells a story and generates a sense of intrigue, not only surrounding the vehicle but also the person behind the wheel.
“To the casual observer they are just a set of numbers and letters, but to me, they are an opportunity to set people’s imaginations racing. A good registration turns a mundane requirement into an exciting opportunity to say something about yourself.”
We agree – and add that they are a canny investment, considering the lack of red tape and maintenance costs associated with other investment items. A clever buyer can pick a plate – those with a solitary ‘1’ being extremely desirable – and hold onto it, allowing a third-party dealer to place it on auction after a period of time. It is yet another revenue stream for Kahn and one that allows him even more room to experiment and grow his business.
A motoring design mogul, Kahn demonstrates the rewards of skill, practice, determination and striking out for yourself. With his stable of companies steadily growing and talk of even more cars being added to his bespoke range, there doesn’t seem to be much chance of him slowing down any time soon. We wonder what’s next for Kahn – more ‘Kahn Office’ shows on YouTube? Further partnerships with some of the country’s most famed brands? His own marque, built from the ground up? We can’t wait to find out!